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A guide to two worlds: inner as well as outer
on 18 August 2007
Sara Wheeler got a first glimpse of Antarctica when she completed her north-to-south journey through Chile ["Travels In A Thin Country"] by visiting the Chilean base on the Antarctic peninsula. She wrote the title of this book on a new notebook as she flew north again from the Chilean base. It took her two years to arrange to return. For the reader, this account of her adventure was worth every minute and all the effort.
The result is enormously interesting and entertaining. Her writing is a pleasure to read, whether dealing with historical background material, describing childish horse-play and lavatorial school-boy pranks [mostly perpetrated by the British, sadly], rhapsodising over the Antarctic landscape or reflecting on her own inner landscape of fear, depression and faith.
Her style is succinct and humorous when describing life in the bases and in the field, and close to elegiac when treating with the landscape and her own thoughts and feelings about it all. It's clear that Antarctica is spectacular in the extreme. Sara Wheeler has described it without becoming carried away or over-blown but has nevertheless given us a picture lacking nothing in colour, detail and texture.
There is a large library of books on Antarctic exploration. I have quite a number myself, including "South With Scott" by Teddy Evans, signed by the author. Sara Wheeler's book is eminently worthy of taking its place amongst those of Evans, Wilson, Shackleton and Cherry Garrard.
Sara Wheeler is not an explorer or a scientist or an obsessive. She has not written a book describing the events in the moments of the creation of a myth or the miseries endured whilst accomplishing some heroic but essentially meaningless quest [what she refers to as the how-dead-can-you-get tendency]. She has given us a book by an engaging, percipient, thoughtful lay person who describes, for those of us who are entranced but will never go there, what Antarctica is like.